A review of my bass fishing year 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

A review of my bass fishing year 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Wow! They say as you get older the years pass quicker and they’re not kidding! I can’t believe I’m sat here writing a review of 2017 – and what a year it’s been. At times, I’ve had to make myself pause for breath. Balancing the guiding alongside my regular (and very demanding) job, family commitments and of course, ensuring I actually go fishing myself, has been a real challenge.

I believe 2018 will be different. Why? Because I am happy to announce that I am now in a position to commit full-time to my guided bass fishing operation – something I am very proud of and extremely excited about!

Inaugural year

Although I commenced guiding clients in September 2016, 2017 has been the inaugural or first full season as (dare I say it) a professional shore-based bass fishing guide.

Below is Part 1 (January to July) highlighting the catches, from both clients and my personal sessions, in addition to snippets of what I’ve learnt throughout the period. I will cover the actual items of equipment that I’d recommend from 2017 in a post that’ll release between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

January (Exploration)

UK lure fishing experience
A stunning sunset on a cold mid-January day. The bass were definitely present (one was lost) during a session, arranged primarily, for photographic opportunities!

A couple of very small bass fell to my lures in early January and then it went very quiet here in south Devon. I did manage a few more sessions as the month progressed but apart from one decent fish lost it became a month of exploration (confirming paths still existed down to marks etc.) in preparation for the season ahead.

Furthermore, I was becoming more and more intrigued about the possibilities of night fishing (with lures) for bass later in the year therefore, I embarked on a series of ‘searches’ (long walks to remote marks) to take photographs and actually stand on reefs, that would be covered by shallow water over high tide – ultimately, where I thought bass would be present in darkness…

February (Wrasse time!)

My exploration continued and I completed a few sessions whereby I’d occasionally use bait (big squid and mackerel baits) alongside the lures however, following a cold settled spell I changed tactics again. I needed a bend in the rod therefore, I decided to hunt down some wrasse in the unusually clear water on a (warm-ish) February day. The result – Five ballan wrasse all taken on one of my favourite lures – the Illex Nitro Sprat Shad.

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March (First bass of the season for a client)

The second set of spring tides in May is often associated with the first catches of bass along the UK coastline, but the West country is different! With the sea temperature creeping above 10ºC around Devon, Cornwall and Dorset and with a warm settled spell about to end, I caved in and decided to take James (someone who has become a good friend and fishing companion) out on a guided session on the 28th March.

It’s quite ironic actually, as on the previous day when it was gloriously warm and sunny, I’d guided another client (George) who is someone else who has become a fishing companion and mate (more on him later!). Back to James, and the sight of that flash of silver, on the first cast into a shallow ‘pool’ towards the end of the session will live with me forever. It was a beautiful fish (that was returned safely) and one that really did set me up nicely for the season – you can read the full story here.

Bass caught on lures in March
My client (James) with a bass caught on a Tacklehouse Feedshallow lure in late March – the first of the 2017 season.

I never thought this would happen!!

Late in 2016, I was approached by Angling Writer and Photographer Henry Gilbey in relation to an article he wanted to write for Sea Angler magazine. He is a brilliant bloke, who does so much for our wonderful sport – and his articles get people ‘out there’ experimenting which I find very inspiring (highlighting the virtues of night fishing for bass with lures is a great example). The article ‘The Man to Call’ (Get inside the mind of angling guide Marc Cowling) was subsequently published in the January 2017 edition – for which, I am very grateful to Sea Angler and Henry.

On top of that, I was asked by the Bass Angler’s Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S) to contribute an article of my own that also appeared in Sea Angler magazine (March edition). But I was totally gobsmacked when The Editor of Total Sea Fishing Magazine (Paul Dennis) left a message on my answer phone in January asking if I was interested in becoming a feature writer! Yes please! My first article was published in the April edition.

This was something that was a real ambition of mine, but I never thought it would become reality. It is a real shame the publishers have decided to pull the plug on this excellent resource (the current January edition is the final product) but again, I would like to say ‘Thank you’ to Paul Dennis and Total Sea Fishing for the opportunity to realise a dream – back copies of TSF Magazine can be found here

Veals Mail Order image

Also in February, I became a consultant for the online fishing tackle company Veal Mail Order in relation to their lure fishing equipment. Again, a huge ‘Thank you’ to Bristol Channel Guide, writer and VMO Manager Jansen Teakle, and Owner Harry Brake for taking me on!

April (A pivotal moment)

April began rather frustratingly – I managed to catch a couple of very small bass and during the guided sessions my clients were extremely unlucky… The bass were present in seemingly decent numbers judging on the amount of ‘follows’, ‘lunges’, ‘swirls’ and hook ups that lasted only seconds. Indeed, I vividly remember watching a very nice bass follow an OSP DoLive Shad (being retreived by a client) up a gully in crystal clear water on a beautiful sunny day – only for it to turn away at the very last second… gutted.

Enough was enough, I broke out the white 6″ senkos and decided to hit one of my ‘new’ night fishing marks. I say ‘new, but to be fair all of them were in the proximity of rocks where I’d caught bass over the past 20 odd years, albeit in more turbulent conditions, during daylight. The 17th April will go in down in my bass fishing education as a day (night) when my way of approaching things changed forever – the full story is here.

Early season bass in darkness
A sight for sore (and tired) eyes! However, staying out late is worth it in order to confirm that one of my marks and the method produces bass.
Bass fishing in darkness
My first ever bass caught ‘by design’ in complete darkness on a white 6″ senko. A capture that would have positive implications for my future clients!

May (A surprise specimen and the bass arrive in earnest)

During the first week of May the weather remained very sunny, calm and settled. Catching a bass in such conditions is hard enough, which is why the capture of the 65cm (6lb+) pollack over a large expanse of sand, in broad daylight, in 15ft+ of water on a shallow diving lure was a real surprise!

Shore caught Pollack on lures
By far my largest shore caught pollack! Although the area I was fishing is very remote and conducive to decent pollack fishing, I was very surprised to land this one in such bright conditions.

A couple of days later the wind increased markedly and swung onshore creating some really turbulent conditions. However, the impact it had on the amount of bass feeding close inshore was significant and the catches began to increase, in addition to the size and quality of the bass landed (see below).

Bass at night on lures
This cracker was caught by my client Rob, a lovely bloke who put in a great deal of effort on a wild old day. This bass took the lure very close to our feet, right on dusk, as the wave turned onto the beach.

Rob’s bass (that you can read about here) opened the floodgates and I managed to land a couple of 5lb+ fish myself later that same evening and few more nice bass as the sea calmed and cleared again.

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With the arrival of the sandeels and the increasing water temperature the bass fishing gradually became more consistent. I continued my experiments at night, and even during very bright sunny conditions the bass were hammering lures – with my clients enjoying getting in on the action when the sun-screen was also required!

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By now, I felt very confident about the prospects at night and an enquiry from George (the client I’d guided in late March) saying he wanted to complete a session in darkness was all the encouragement I needed – and I’m glad I did! What he achieved that night moved things onto another level as he landed five superb bass. One well over 3lb and another well over 5lb measuring 62cm – see below and read here.

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June (It’s all about darkness)

I’ve said it many times, but I never thought I would be guiding clients in darkness. Indeed, I’d spent the 7 years prior to becoming a guide concentrating solely on fishing all my 130 or so marks in differing weather, tidal and sea conditions as possible so that I had a venue for all scenarios. Yet here I was in June,  praying for calm settled sun-bathing weather in the knowledge that at night, those same areas, where bathers swam and held barbecues in daylight, would be raided by hungry bass at night!

My first solo session in June saw me land a 63cm (6lb+) bass amongst a haul of six fish. I also lost one that felt VERY big… all on the needlefish and white senkos.

Big bass at night
Not the best photograph in the world admittedly. But when you’re relying on the 10 second timer to capture a decent image before returning the fish as quickly as possible, something has to give –  ensuring these wonderful creatures swim back to their home will always be my priority.

As June progressed I started to receive more enquiries specifically in relation to night lure fishing. And with the weather remaining settled my clients managed to enjoy some excellent sport – respect to their endurance as many of these sessions were completed between 2200-0200 (from beaches) once it was actually dark!

Bass caught on a needlefish
My client (Simon) with a lovely bass taken right at the end of the session – he’d lost two slightly smaller ones just as they were about to hit the shingle therefore, he and I were really happy with this one – well done mate!
Night time bassing with lures
A regular client, Ron managed two 4lb bass in the same session  – both fish snaffled a 150mm white needlefish only metres from the shingle.

One very accomplished fisherman (Dave McPhillips) had already landed a significant number of bass on lures in 2017 when he visited me – but to land two 60cm+ fish in one session was pretty memorable (see here) and below:

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July (First of the big bass!)

Literally seconds into July my client (Lee) latched into something really special just as the Moon appeared for a very short period – the fact that this coincided with the only bite of the session really intrigued me. But when the only bite of a session results in a 70cm bass neither of us minded! This 8lb+ fish surpassed what was my own personal best (at the time) – you can read the full story/blog post here.

Bass fishing blogger
An exceptional fish! Lee did extremely well to land this 8lb+ bass as it did everything it could to shake the needlefish hooks – including a spirited run directly at us and towards the shoreline.

By now I was itching to do some fishing myself between work and guiding! So with my clients in mind, I continued to experiment by managing a few short solo sessions on some of the night-time marks that I fancied might produce (see below):

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The bass were often hard to come by during daylight in 2017 and appeared to me to be concentrated wherever the bait fish were – which was often just offshore? A great example is the bass below, captured by my client (Alun) right at the end of a daylight session, in conditions that I would to consider (for the marks we were fishing) as ideal. Yet in the end it was in the final casts, along a shingle beach right on dusk, when he eventually landed the fish below:

Bass at dusk on lures
Catching bass on lures brings a lot of joy (and smiles) to many anglers up and down the country and Alun thoroughly deserved this one!

Part 2 will follow tomorrow evening – after I finally wrap my very understanding Wife’s Christmas presents!

Thanks for reading.

Marc Cowling














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